From wearability to sustainability: How has the Sri Lankan Saree evolved?

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2021 Sep 16

From simple cottons to luxurious Silks and intricate embroidery – the Saree is one of the oldest garments worn by women tracing back to 3200-2000 BC, with its roots lying with the Indus Valley Civilisation. A Saree is a 7-9 yard material designed to be draped and pleated around the body, creating silhouettes and shapes that exude elegance,  and Saree styling, designing and draping have become art forms in and of themselves. Typically worn in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, to the South Asian woman, the Saree is a beacon of culture and style. Its versatile nature not only meant that it was worn daily, but it is also the go to garment for special events and ceremonies. Pushing past tradition into a new era of expression, Sarees have become a fun and creative medium for women to style themselves. Unhindered by shape, size and all the considerations that cause pause for purchase, in today’s fast fashion world the Saree is completely inclusive and timeless.

With each country displaying distinctly unique aesthetics, Sri Lanka distinguishes itself with bright colours, hand woven silks and batik. Another distinction is our Osari (a unique Kandyan method of draping the Saree), where two main differences separate it from the more commonly known Indian style of draping. Firstly, the Osari has an ‘odokkuwa’, which is the elaborate frill that can be spotted at the waist. Secondly, the ‘pota’ (the fall that goes over the shoulder) actually starts from the waist – initially covered by the ‘odokkuwa’ – The pota only covers the midriff partially and is pinned at the shoulder and thus covers none of the arm.

Find it Online

Saree fashion in Sri Lanka now makes itself available not just via physical stores and Saree shops but also online. Gamya Wijayadasa, the owner of Waidurya, one of Sri Lanka’s first online Saree shopping pioneers, shares that a Saree is “a truly remarkable thing… it tells a story about who we are and what our history is, and that’s why I love the fact that it’s still around. I want to see this drape survive many more generations”.

She shares that the scope with styling is endless. It could be deeply rooted with tradition but could also have a high fashion spin and reflect someone’s mood. Inspired by culture, nature, art and architecture, Gamya’s brand Waidurya brings her intricate and regal designs into a more modern platform where you can order your Saree online via her website. While on the site you can also submit your measurements to them and receive a beautifully tailored piece!

Eco- ethical Fashion

Sustainability and Sarees have always been a natural pairing. When looked after properly, a Saree can last generations, and can be passed down from mother to child; and when it isn’t, the expansive material can be lent out to family or friends, or even repurposed into other forms of clothing.  And thus, you can now even rent a Saree online or buy clothes that have been upcycled from Saree materials. Two brands that caught our attention were Majä A New Story and The Saree Library.

Majä, owned by Draupadie Weeraperuma, is a brand dedicated to eco-ethical fashion, and is available on many platforms such as Instagram and Etsy. They also have a website majaanewstory.com where you can shop their items, read about their story and learn more about an ethical approach to fashion.

Inspired by the women she grew up with and the women she currently works with, Drau aims to prolong the life of the material, giving it a newer purpose and reducing the use of energy and the strain on valuable resources. The brand inspires us to embrace upcycling and to see it as a concept of “trash to treasure” where every inch of the saree is put to use. Her Instagram sports a variety of flowy reversible wrap skirts, cushion covers, bowties and clutches – her pieces are purposefully created to “not be limited to one time use” and are adjustable in size.The Saree Library owned by Afrah Saldin, functions as a Saree renting page on Instagram. Realising the sheer cost of constantly buying new Sarees, Afrah started the page to help ease that financial burden on women and make an eco-conscious statement. With over a 100 Sarees for rent, the Saree Library brings an innovative solution to the modern woman when it comes to not wanting to wear the same thing more than a few times. Afrah’s page also sports various drape inspirations heavily influenced by pop-culture and Disney!

Saree and Styling

The Saree is a timeless piece that can be used as a medium of expression by anyone. Fashion in its transcendent nature tends to work in cycles; what was once fashionable will soon lose its appeal only to re-emerge a few decades later as a hot new trend, but somehow the Saree has been able to evolve and navigate the extraordinarily exacting terrain of the fashion world by adapting.

Afrah shares that each generation “puts their own generational twist on it, whether it’s worn with crop tops or made up, pleated Saree dresses that can be worn in a matter of seconds that look no different to the traditional Saree drape. It’s somehow managed to remain timeless and relevant because it’s always being innovated in some way”.

Heavily influenced by Indian fashion and the current trends on Instagram, we see many designers in Sri Lanka keeping the Saree relevant by emulating and innovating designs and drapes that are both trendy and eye-catching. Bringing culture, class and innovation to the garment, designers have found ways of keeping the Saree relevant to both the old and young generations.

In their bid to personalise the saree, the younger generation has taken to accessorising and draping to reflect their distinct stylistic expressions – from pairing it with button downs, to belting their waists, to adding dainty body chains, to even using the pallu itself as a top. They have pushed past tradition, truly making it their own.

A quintessentially traditional garment, the Saree bonds women to their ancestry, makes them feel beautiful, powerful and confident. Its connection to the spirit of the South Asian woman is indescribable and deep. It accommodates personal style, expression, artistry and inclusivity, ever evolving, bridging expression and tradition into style. Thus, its presence in our closets will never disappear, its longevity will likely carry on well past our time, and its evolution will continue to amaze us with just how versatile and timeless the Saree really is.

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